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|Active||November 1936 – June 1939|
|Country|| Nazi Germany
|Engagements||Spanish Civil War|
|Haupmann Gotthard Handrick|
Jagdgruppe 88 (J/88) was a German Condor Legion fighter group serving in the Spanish Civil War. J/88 consisted of a headquarters (Stab) and four squadrons (Staffeln), although the 4th Staffel was short-lived. J/88 had formed on 3 November 1936.
The Condor Legion was an expeditionary force of soldiers and airmen sent to aid the Spanish Nationalist group during the Spanish Civil War. The Germans used the war as an opportunity to evaluate new equipment, guns, vehicles and aircraft, and to develop tactical techniques which were later used in the 1939-45 conflict.
In addition to a detachment of converted Junkers Ju-52s, a initial cadre of six Heinkel He-51s, were despatched, with enough service staff to instruct the Spanish aircrews in the operation and maintenance of the aircraft. Under the leadership of Leutnant Hannes Trautloft J/88 arrived by sea in August 1936. While the Spanish Air Force pilots trained, Trautloft and the other pilots became the first of an eventual 326 aircrew who would serve with Jagdgruppe 88 during the next two and a half years.
Oberleutnant Eberhardt Kraft made the unit's first claim on 25 August 1936, a Casa-Breguet 19. Meantime aid from the Soviet Union arrived for the Republican forces. The supplied Soviet fighters (Polikarpov I-15 and I-16) easily outperformed the Heinkel He 51s, and in late 1936, three Messerschmitt Bf 109 prototypes were sent to J/88, and soon followed by the first 15 of the latest Bf 109-Bs. A He 112 V6 prototype was also sent. Armed with a single 20mm cannon firing through the airscrew hub, the Kanonenvogel (cannon bird) was to be evaluated as a ground attack aircraft and assigned to Jagdgruppe 88 at Almorox in March. Over the next few months the He 112 V6 was flown by several pilots, but on 19 July 1937, with Unteroffizier Max Schulze flying, the engine seized during landing, and the He 112 V6 broke its back and was written off.
The first unit to fly the Bf 109 was 2. Staffel, commanded by Oberleutnat Günther Lützow. The unit initially suffered several landing accidents, until the pilots became familiar with taking off and landing on the narrow‑track undercarriage.
The first major action of 2.J/88 with the Bf 109-B1, took place during the Battle of Brunete in July 1937. Based near Ávila, its main mission was to escort the Junkers Ju 52 bombers. The Bf 109s, utilising superior tactics developed by Leutnant Werner Mölders, turned air superiority in favour of the Condor Legion. The Bf 109s drew first blood on 8 July 1937 when Leutnant Rolf Pingel and Uzz. Guido Höness claimed two Tupolev SB‑2 bombers. Air combats fought on 12 July resulted in two Aero A.101s claimed by Höness, an SB‑2 to Pingel, and three I‑16s by Pingel, Fw. Peter Boddem and Fw. Adolf Buhl. Höness became the first Bf 109 loss, probably shot down and killed by an Republican I-16 flown by American Frank Tinker. The Condor Legion lost eight aircraft, but J/88 fighters claimed 18 victories.
On 24 July Republican forces launched their final major offensive, the Battle of the Ebro. Reconnaissance aircraft of the Condor Legion noticed the troop build-up, and while the Republic forced gained ground, they failed to take Gandesa, due to intensive ( over 400) sorties by 70 Legion aircraft. The rest of the battle saw a series of air strikes, followed by a Nationalist counter-offensive. During the 113-day battle, only 10 aircraft were lost and 14 damaged; the Legion claimed 100 Republican aircraft destroyed, a third of those lost. Only 5 aircrew had been killed, and 6 captured.
Some 19 Bf 109C-1s, with a fuel‑injected Jumo 210Ga engine and four 7.9mm machine guns, arrived in Spain in the spring 1938, followed by nine Bf 109-Ds in August. In February 1939 the latest Bf 109E‑1 model was sent to Jagdgruppe 88, with 2. Staffel converting from the Bf 109-B in late February 1939, just prior to the end of the War. The unit then took part in operations against the remnants of the Republican Air Force through early 1939, with considerable success. The men of J/88 returned to Germany in May 1939.
Prominent members of J/88
Hauptmann Gotthard Handrick, winner of the modern pentathlon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, arrived in the summer of 1937 to assume command of Jagdgruppe 88, remaining until September 1938, during which time he had claimed 5 victories.
Oberleutnant Werner Mölders arrived on 14 April 1938, and took over from Adolf Galland commanding 3 staffel. During the conflict he showed considerable qualities as both a pilot and tactician. He helped to develop the "finger four", formation, which improved a combat flight's all-round effectiveness, vision and flexibility in combat. Between July and November 1938 he shot down fourteen aircraft: eleven I-16s, two Polikarpov I-15s and one SB-2, mostly flying a Bf 109C-1 coded 6-79 "Luchs".
Oberleutnant Adolf Galland was appointed Staffelkapitän of 3. Staffel, in July 1937, eventually flying 200 ground attack missions in the Heinkel He 51.
- Hauptmann Hubertus Merhardt von Bernegg, November 1936 – July 1937
- Hauptmann Gotthard Handrick, 18 July 1937 – 10 September 1938
- Hauptmann Walter Grabmann, 9 September 1938 – 31 March 1939